PHOENIX — Authorities have dismantled a major cell of a human smuggling ring that may be responsible for the transportation of thousands of illegal immigrants from the US-Mexico border to Phoenix and other parts of the country, investigators said yesterday.
Nine people were arrested yesterday after a yearlong investigation. They have not yet been charged but are accused of picking up illegal immigrants after they crossed the border on foot, and taking them to what are known as drop houses in Phoenix before they were distributed to other parts of the country.
Authorities say the group was led by a 29-year-old Mexican man who told them his name is Mark Rodriguez-Banks. Rodriguez-Banks provided vehicles for the immigrants’ transportation, said Arizona Department of Public Safety Capt. Fred Zumbo.
Zumbo said the group specialized in smuggling people from Central America, and that many of their customers — who paid to be taken to various US cities — came from Guatemala.
The group has been connected to a June 2009 vehicle rollover in southern Arizona in which 11 illegal immigrants were killed. Twenty-seven people had been stacked inside, and most were ejected after a tire blew and the vehicle rolled.
Members of the group also were involved in two other reports last year of transporting illegal immigrants.